For New Jersey chef Jeffrey Nathan, the holiday of Sukkot is a particularly good time to practice what he preaches in his new book, Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers (Clarkson Potter), in which he emphasizes the importance of not only eating but cooking together with your children. During Sukkot, the Nathans not only build and decorate the sukka together, but cook the meals they will eat under its canopy of leaves and branches.
“Now that Jackie and Chad are teens, they’re busy with friends and a million activities,” says Jeff. “But being home on Friday night and Saturday and during the Jewish holidays such as Sukkot is sacrosanct.
“I love the family feeling of it,” says Jeff, who is co-owner of Abigael’s in Manhattan. “Getting in the kitchen with my wife, Alison, and our kids is our biggest pleasure. I think we’re closer because we cook together.”
Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, it’s traditional to serve a variety of autumn fruits and vegetables. A beautiful fresh salad is perfect.
Jeff shares his family tradition of the Salad Mystery Basket.
“We go to the Farmers’ Market or the produce section at the supermarket and buy whatever looks the freshest — bok choy or mesclun or baby carrots. We put everything into a basket, bring it home, and the kids assemble their own salads.
“They’re in charge,” he says. “They make up the recipe, including the dressing.
“Of course,” he added, “I’m on the sidelines explaining which raw items go together and which dressing accentuates the flavors.”
“But I encourage them to develop their own likes and dislikes…. I tell them, ‘Don’t try to like something just because someone else tells you it’s good.’ I want to build their confidence and their sense of adventure.”
Alison Nathan, a chef in her own right, says, “Since we’re eating outside during Sukkot, we want dishes that can be transported easily from the kitchen to the sukka, so we do a lot of one-pot meals.”
In Israel stuffed vegetables — including peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, or onions — are a staple during Sukkot. They’re great, says Jeff, because they come with their own container. “Instead of washing the bowl, you can throw it out,” he says with a laugh.
The kids’ cooking chores are assigned according to each one’s talents and likes. Jackie, 16, is artistic so she’s in charge of stuffing the vegetables so they look pretty. She is also patient, so she gets the job of cutting the tiny tips off the green beans or spooning out an indentation in the mashed potatoes, filling it with gravy, and then sprinkling herbs all around, Jeff says. “She loves setting the table and arranges the utensils right out of Miss Manners.”
Chad, 19, does the heavy work like getting the barbecue ready, shopping with his dad, and putting everything in the dishwasher. He also loves standing over the grill.
“The best part about cooking together is just looking at the kids’ faces as they taste something they’ve made,” says Jeff. “You can learn so much in the kitchen, from teamwork and cooperation, to planning what to make and figuring out what you’ll need.
“Of course it’s not all just educational; we have fun too.”
SICILIAN-STYLE STUFFED BELL PEPPERS
From Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers
4 sweet bell peppers, red, yellow, orange or green, stemmed, halved, deveined, and seeded
1 cup Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. golden raisins, plumped and drained
6 boneless anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/4 cup nonpareil capers, drained and rinsed
2 Tsps. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tsps. chopped fresh basil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce, as needed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Place peppers skin side down on the sheet. In a medium bowl, mix together bread crumbs, raisins, anchovies, capers, parsley, and basil. Add oil and stir well to make a crumbly mixture the texture of wet sand. Season with pepper. Spread bread crumb mixture in a thin layer onto the cut surface of each pepper. Drizzle each with a bit of olive oil and top with tomato sauce. Bake until peppers are wilted and the crumb filling is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, cool, or at room temperature. Makes four servings.
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH GARLIC AND ROSEMARY
From Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers
1 lb. dried white kidney (cannellini) beans
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
12 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ripe plum tomatoes cut into 1/2” dice
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsps. dried oregano
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 gallon water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place beans in large bowl; add enough water to cover beans by two inches. Let stand eight-12 hours. Drain well. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 12 minutes. Add drained beans, tomatoes, rosemary, oregano, and red pepper flakes; reduce heat to low. Cook until tomatoes soften, about seven minutes. Stir in the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until beans are very tender, 60-75 minutes. During last 15 minutes, season with salt and pepper. In batches, transfer soup to a blender and puree. Transfer to soup tureen and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
GRILLED ASPARAGUS, PAPAYA, AVOCADO, & GRAPEFRUIT
From chef Jeffrey Nathan
Prepare vinaigrette and vegetables the day before Sukkot. Right before serving, assemble individual salads.
grated zest of 1 grapefruit
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
2 1/2 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. honey, or less if desired
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 dozen fresh asparagus, trimmed of woody stalks, then grilled
1 large pink grapefruit, peeled, seeded, and divided into sections
2 ripe Haas avocados, peeled and diced
1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 lb. lamb’s lettuce (Mache)
For vinaigrette: Combine grapefruit zest and juice, lime juice, and honey in covered container. Shake to emulsify. Slowly whisk in olive oil, salt, and pepper for 30 seconds. Allow vinaigrette to sit at least one hour or overnight.
For salad: The day before serving, wash and dry the lettuce; place it with a paper towel in an airtight plastic bag. Working over a medium bowl to catch the juices, supreme the grapefruit by cutting off the thick peel where it meets the flesh, then cutting between the thin membranes to release the segments. Place segments in a bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Splash avocado in the juice; place in bowl with the papaya; store both bowls in refrigerator overnight.
To serve: Place lamb’s lettuce on individual plates. Arrange asparagus, avocado, grapefruit segments, and papaya on top of lettuce. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Pour vinaigrette into small pitchers and place on table for guests to help themselves. Makes six servings.
POACHED APRICOTS WITH LEMON AND THYME
From Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers
Serve as compote, with regular or nondairy vanilla ice cream or whipped topping.
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
13″ cinnamon stick
1 lb. dried apricots
1/4 cup almond-flavored liqueur
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
few gratings fresh nutmeg
nondairy vanilla ice cream or whipped topping,
lemon zest, cut into julienne, for serving
Combine two cups water, orange juice, honey, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Add apricots; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Partially cover the saucepan with lid; simmer until apricots are tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat; add liqueur, thyme, and nutmeg. Cool until warm (or cool, cover, and refrigerate until chilled). Serve, spooned over ice cream and topped with julienne lemon zest, if desired. Makes six-eight servings.